I met Dennis the first time at Winter NAMM, I think it was 2012, when he was working with Premier Builders Group. I was always a fan of Dennis' designs and build sensibility from the first time I picked up a Fano guitar at a NAMM show a year or two before that. A year or two later, Eastwood started working with other designers - John Backlund and Jeff Senn - to expand their reach with off-shore models. When I heard about Dennis moving on from PBG and starting up with NOVO Guitars, it got me thinking about working out a similar arrangement with Dennis.
2. Tell us about the inspiration behind starting Rivolta Guitars.
With Dennis starting NOVO in mind, I reached out to initially run the idea past him. Dennis had been watching what we were doing with Senn and Backlund, so he clearly understood the opportunity. Carl Cook and I flew down to meet with him to discuss it further. At the time, Dennis was building NOVO guitars from his home, but was contemplating moving to Nashville to expand his business. So adding Rivolta Guitars to the cashflow of NOVO and launching a new brand within Eastwood was a win-win.
I was proud of what we had accomplished at PBG but I left Fano Guitars in late 2015 with the nagging feeling that there was unfinished business. When I started NOVO, I wanted to head in a slightly new direction in order to put some distance between myself and the work that I had been doing for the past 15 years. It was a clean break and time for a new start but I still had a soft spot for the old designs. So, when Mike approached me about working together in the Spring of 2016, and told me how much he liked the Alt de Facto designs, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to scratch that itch and figure out a way to push those ideas further.
Photo: left to right - Dennis Fano, Carl Cook, Mike Robinson
3. Explain the relationship(s) between Eastwood, Rivolta, and NOVO.
Eastwood Guitars is a separate company that owns and distributes different brands - Airline, Sidejack Series, Backlund, and many others. NOVO is a brand owned by Dennis Fano and has nothing to do with Eastwood Guitars. Rivolta is a brand with shared ownership between Mike Robinson and Dennis Fano.
Video: Eastwood Guitars Mike Robinson and Carl Cook talk about the evolution of Dennis Fano.
4. How do the two of you divide responsibilities between design and production?
Dennis' expertise is in product design and development - he is one of the best in the world. You'll know the moment you pick up and play a NOVO or Rivolta guitar. For 20+ years I've been running Eastwood Guitars which focuses on making tributes and replica guitars from the 50's and 60's. I'm not a guitar designer - my skill set revolves around off-shore production, sales, marketing and distribution. That makes it easy for us to divide responsibilities.
All of the things that Mike is really good at are my weaknesses so, fortunately, we complement one another really well.
5. What sets Rivolta guitars apart from other guitar brands in the market
I think the thing that sets Rivolta apart from other brands is our aesthetics and features. I'm always trying to find that delicate balance of honoring tradition while putting a unique twist on it to create something familiar but new. Most guitar players that I know have pretty conservative tastes. Many of them play the guitars that have been popular since the 1950's and 1960's - most likely, the guitars that their heroes played. I'm always mindful of that fact when I set out to design a new guitar and I believe it's the blend of tradition and modern features that makes our guitars desirable.
6. How do you approach quality control in the production process, and what steps do you take to ensure consistent quality in your guitars?
Any guitar production needs to start with a good, well thought out design, and Dennis has achieved that on entry level. Rivolta Guitars are made in Korea at World Music Inc, the best guitar factory in the country. They're more expensive to make than most off-shore guitars, but the quality shows. Once production is complete, they are shipped to our main Headquarters in Nashville, TN, which is a shared environment with NOVO Guitars HQ. All guitars are then inspected upon arrival, then each guitar is set up again by our Nashville guitar techs and shipped out to our customers.
7. What challenges have you faced in running Rivolta Guitars, and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge thus far was having to deal with all the disruptions cause by COVID. To my surprise sales increased dramatically during the early months of Covid - which sounds great - but the delays in production and massive delays in ocean shipping forced us to navigate 18 month delays in fulfillment and a 3 year period of roller coaster operations. Many businesses did not survive through COVID, but Rivolta grew significantly during that period and continues to capture market share in the guitar industry.
8. What’s been the most popular Rivolta model so far?
The Mondata Baritone was a massive success and still is our top selling model. But it won't hold that title forever - I've had a peek at some new designs that Dennis is working on for 2024. They'll be a huge hit!
9. How do you see the future of the guitar industry evolving, and what role do you see Rivolta Guitars playing in that evolution?
Since the early 1950's, the guitar industry has slowly but steadily grown at a rate of about 5% per year. It's had ups and downs over the decades, like phases where music makers favoured keyboards and synths over guitars. Or the time when Guitar Center added hundreds of stores and offered enticing financing options across USA that rapidly boosted guitar sales. But over time, it always reverted back to a 5% growth trajectory. The latest disruption was COVID, where aided by massive stimulus money into the market, saw a 3 year period of 30-50% growth. That is winding down now, and I predict once again we will fall back to the 5% range.
However, for Rivolta we are expecting continued growth as we continue to take market share from traditional guitars brands.
10. Can you discuss any upcoming projects, new products, short term and long term future plans that you have in the pipeline for Rivolta Guitars?
We will continue to expand the visibility and reach of Rivolta with bringing on new dealers and distributors worldwide. With this continued growth of both NOVO and Rivolta guitars, we will soon be running out of space. So a move is likely in our future!
Yes, the lack of space is quickly becoming in issue and I'm really looking forward to the imminent move. On the creative side of the business, I love designing guitars! It just may be the part of my job that I love most. I've got folder full of unreleased designs and a long list of other new ideas that I'm eager to get to. Next up is the new Forma Series. They are currently in production and will debut very soon. Exciting times!